Having made our way back to Ljubljana from beautiful Lake Bled, we found ourselves with a couple of hours to kill before needing to catch the train to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.
When planning our road trip, Ljubljana didn’t feature on our list of stops, having been overlooked for the more traditional tourist hotspots in Slovenia and Croatia, but with time on our hands we decided to do some exploring.
We hadn’t heard anything about Ljubljana before and had absolutely no expectations, which is perhaps the best mind-set to have when travelling.
We deposited our luggage at Ljubljana train station, a place which simultaneously manages to make you feel like you’ve gone back to the 1950s with its general décor and dodgy music, and yet forward in time to 2050 with its whizzy touch screen bag storage facility and insanely high tech McDonalds.
Confession: we may have stopped at the McDonalds, but purely for research purposes of course…
As with much of former Yugoslavia, Ljubljana still bears the marks of a former communist-run city.
The huge uniform apartment blocks, grey factories and linear infrastructure still dominate the more modern side of town.
However, the atmosphere itself couldn’t be more different.
Slovenians are hugely friendly, with excellent English and a massively entrepreneurial spirit and Ljubljana, even on a Sunday and despite a population of less than 300,000 people, was buzzing.
We wandered from the train station down towards the historic heart of the city, about a 20-minute walk.
The older part of town feels much like other European cities, with its narrower cobbled streets, shuttered old buildings, and street cafés.
We were trying to work out whether there was any tangible ‘centre’ to the old town (you know that bit that makes you go ‘Ah here it is!’), when we turned a corner, crossed onto a beautiful bridge over the river Ljubljanica and found ourselves looking over a beautiful old square.
The bridge, which bears the emblem of Ljubljana, an awesome looking dragon, leads you into a the market area and rows of nice cafés and restaurants overlooking the river – sort of like a mini-Paris, Rome and Amsterdam in one – try getting your head around that!
The city skyline is dominated by the cathedral and a stunning castle on the hill, which apparently dates back to the 12th century, and is accessed by a little railway that visitors will be pleased to know doesn’t also date back to the 12th century.
They certainly looked well worth a visit, even though we sadly didn’t have time ourselves.
Two hours is an impossible amount of time to judge a whole city, but who cares, we’re going to do it anyway!
Ljubljana, we liked you a lot.
Pretty (in the old town at least), easy to get around, and with a great ‘café culture’ atmosphere.
The only problem is that it’s definitely a weekend break kind of city, and given the length of the flight from the U.K. at least, there are more beautiful options, probably at a cheaper flight cost too, meaning most people wouldn’t even consider it.
BUT, it’s a great place to start any road trip through the Balkans and if you’re looking for the ‘road less travelled’ and the feeling that you’re doing something a bit different to the usual tourist spots, then check it out.
Flights are waaaay cheaper to Ljubljana than to Zagreb in peak season and it’s then only a two hour ride to Zagreb on a £10 train – as we said in our first blog, you do the math! (for those that can’t do math, that’s cheap.)
Plus, as mentioned earlier, Ljubljana’s city symbol is a dragon, and let’s face it, that’s just plain cool and deserves respect all by itself.
Arriving back at the weird time travelling train station, we boarded a train to Zagreb that was effectively the Hogwarts Express.
Ok, it didn’t have the old steam engine or wizards/witches as passengers (although that mysterious looking old lady in carriage two could have been), but it did have those awesome self-contained, eight-person compartments.
These are generally very fun and a good way of meeting other people, unless of course you’re stuck with the screaming baby in carriage six or the man who keeps staring at you in carriage nine…
So, half-expecting Harry Potter himself to sit down and join us, we settled into the two-hour journey to Zagreb.
Trains are another great way to see a country, and this one, which followed a white water river most of the way, wound through mountains and valleys, passing through small Slovenian villages along the way.
The border crossing, which is only about half an hour from Zagreb itself, was a bit disappointing.
We were hoping that scary looking communist border guards would demand to know what my ‘GoPro’ was and whether I was a secret agent coming to spy.
Alas, it was a pretty standard passport procedure, even though I tried my best to look like James Bond.
And so, we left Slovenia, a country we’ve been to three times now and still always makes us sad to say goodbye.
We can honestly say we haven’t had a bad experience yet.
The scenery is often breathtaking, the people are lovely and the country is clean and rapidly modernising.
“Croatia better be good”, I thought, as we chugged onwards towards Zagreb.
To be continued…